Casablanca- There is nothing in the world that stains the image of Islam more than a ridiculous hoax reported first as “news” and then spread through social networks about the conversion of an internationally recognized figure to Islam. When the sources of such deceptive news are verified and the news is found to be inaccurate, it is evident that Islam is the only target of the hoax as manifested by the subsequent backlash in harsh attacks from non-Muslims—particularly atheists.
Recently, it was reported in many Arabic news websites that Rowan Atkinson, the world-renowned comedian widely known for his role as Mr. Bean, had announced his conversion to Islam. This unverified report stirred a huge positive, yet premature, reaction among Muslims active on social networks. An immediate, significant increase in traffic on social media was recorded in countries where Islam is the predominant religion.
The reaction would have been completely natural had the news been verified or proved accurate. However, the veracity of this report has not yet been established, and the new outlets that have disseminated the information do not have any reputation for journalistic credibility. Thus, the report is a hoax. The fact that it is a hoax has put Islam and Muslims under a derogatory spotlight due to the wave of harsh criticisms and attacks that have been leveled subsequently.
For example, http://www.israellycool.com/ is as the name indicates an Israeli news outlet whose content aims principally at depicting Israel in a positive light. This website has recently published articles mocking the unverified claim that Mr. Bean converted to Islam. The articles were not clearly aimed at falsifying the initial claim, nor at attacking the way in which the unverified news was spread; rather, the articles leveled attacks, both explicitly and implicitly, at Muslims and Islam in the most mocking tones
When unverified reports are eventually proven inaccurate, Muslims become the first target of mocking and satiric comments from certain non-Muslims. Muslims are described as religious adherents who aspire to empty controversy and deception. Islam can, thus, be described as a religion that attracts potential converts by deceptive means. Both assertions are ridiculous sweeping generalizations.
While the sweeping generalizations engendered by hoaxes about celebrities converting to Islam are lamentable, the premature reactions of Muslims on social networks only depict a lack of willingness to personally take the trouble to verify “news” published on social networks. However, the hoaxes themselves, which are in fact usually published by Muslims themselves in hopes of shedding light on the greatness of Islam as a final, religious shelter, end up staining the image of Muslims and Islam because they subsequently trigger more acute hatred against the religion in its entirety.
As long as the veracity of “news” is not confirmed, people should take the trouble to verify whether the news is authentic or merely a deceptive hoax. Premature reactions of jubilation at the “news” only add insult to injury, thereby accentuating the negative repercussions that hoaxes later engender.
Until Mr. Bean himself announces his conversion in a video, or is reported to have done so by authentic and reliable sources, I will personally consider this “news” to be a hoax.
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